Google’s John Mueller says search results will either display an article’s publication date, or last modification date, depending on which is most relevant.
This topic came up in a recent Google Webmaster Central hangout where a user submitted the following question:
“Why do search results sometimes show a publication date and time instead of the last modification date and time? Wouldn’t it be useful for the user doing it the other way around?”
Mueller admits this is an issue those within the company sometimes argue about internally, and he sees good arguments on both sides.
Google’s search engine algorithms do not default to picking one date over another. It depends on which date is most relevant to a particular piece of content.
Sometimes it makes sense to show the original publication date, and sometimes it’s better to show the last modification date.
For example, a modification may have changed a piece of content so significantly that it affects what the user is looking for.
In a case like that, Google’s algorithms may choose to display the last modification date rather than the original publication date.
Hear Mueller’s full response in the video below, starting at the 11:15 mark.
“That’s something that we sometimes argue with with the dates team, but I see there are good arguments both ways.
In our algorithms we don’t always pick one or the other as the one that we will show. Sometimes we feel that the original date makes sense to show, and sometimes it makes sense to show the last modification date where we know that something significant changed on this page that affects what the user is looking for.
So I think there are arguments that could be made for both directions, and that’s kind of why we try to be a bit flexible there with the algorithms.”